Camp El Ranchito helps disadvantaged children from Austin, Texas experience nature for the first time. The program is only available to kids who qualify for free or reduced-price lunches, and donors help keep costs low.

This article discusses the activities provided by the camp and their impact on the kids:

For nearly all of these kids, from disadvantaged backgrounds in Austin, this was their first time in anything resembling nature. Ten-year-old Millie Haynes had gone on her first hike a day or two before; now she was carefully constructing a picture of a desert — complete with mountains, moon and cacti — she had never before visited.

The weeklong sleep-away sessions for fourth- through ninth-graders — all filled for this summer — are chock-a-block with field trips to such places as Westcave Outdoor Discovery Center, activities like flint knapping and lessons about healthy eating and the starry night skies. Kids slosh about creeks, gather around campfires, ride horses and sleep in tents.

In many ways, the camp is an antidote to “nature-deficit disorder,” the term popularized by journalist and nonfiction writer Richard Louv in his 2005 book “Last Child in the Woods.”

“Today, kids are aware of the global threats to the environment — but their physical contact, their intimacy with nature, is fading,” Louv wrote. “A kid today can likely tell you about the Amazon rain forest — but not about the last time he or she explored the woods in solitude, or lay in a field listening to the wind and watching the clouds move.”

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